5 Lessons From the Democratic Fund-Raising Reports

Mayor Pete Buttigieg soared and Senator Elizabeth Warren surged. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was solid. Senator Bernie Sanders held steady. Senator Kamala Harris scored late.

And former Representative Beto O’Rourke stumbled. Badly.

The second-quarter financial numbers that campaigns filed on Monday represent a clarifying moment for the state of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. The contest remains wide open and volatile, and there are still technically two-dozen candidates. But the figures portray a field that feels more like it is shrinking than sprawling, separating the campaigns with cash and momentum from those that are searching for a breakthrough or lagging at the back of the pack.

Most of the contenders outside the top five burned through more campaign cash than they raised. That is, in part, because of the party-imposed donor requirements for the fall debates — including a threshold of 130,000 individual donors — which have spurred ever-increasing spending on digital ads, as candidates desperately pursue new donors, $1 at a time.

The filings told the story of big donors and small donors, alike. Mr. Biden, for instance, raised roughly one-third of his $22 million from those who gave in $2,800 increments — the maximum amount for the primary. Mr. Biden had more than 2,700 such donors.

Mr. Sanders, who relies almost entirely on small online contributions, had two-dozen such donors.

The reports also reveal the remarkable degree to which money has tracked with polling. Those at the top of one list have tended to line up with the other.

Here is some of what we learned from the tens of millions of dollars raised and spent by the 2020 contenders:

The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., is an unlikely fund-raising leader, but there he was atop the field, ahead of a former vice president and 2016 Democratic runner-up. But the $24.9 million that Mr. Buttigieg collected — nearly $11 million of which came from small donors who gave less than $200 — firmly established his financial staying power in the race. He also has $22 million in cash-on-hand, second only to Mr. Sanders, and he only trails him because of the surplus millions from past races that the Vermont senator was able to transfer to his presidential campaign.

In a sign of Mr. Buttigieg’s cultural appeal, his largest single expenditure was a payment of nearly $1.3 million to the company that manages his online merchandise store, filling orders for “Pete” and “Boot Edge Edge” wares. For a sense of scale, that figure rivals what President Trump spent on “Make America Great Again” hats and other apparel in the last quarter.

While Mr. Buttigieg has found a following among small donors, his big-money operation is perhaps even more impressive. He had nearly 1,500 donors contribute $2,800, the maximum donation for the primary or more. (Mr. Buttigieg, unlike some rivals, is also collecting general election money he can’t spend in the primary.) He raised $4.8 million from such so-called max out donors.

His financial firepower is a point of pride. When the Democratic strategist David Axelrod pointed out in a recent interview with Mr. Buttigieg that Ms. Warren had raised “almost as much as you,” Mr. Buttigieg jumped in.

“Not quite,” he said.

Ms. Warren made one of the biggest gambles of the race in February when she swore off holding high-dollar fund-raisers. It paid dividends this spring as she tripled her haul from small contributors to $19.2 million. Ms. Warren has adopted a strategy of spending heavily — her campaign spent nearly 90 percent of what it raised in the first quarter, and then doubled its spending to more than $10 million in the second quarter. She now has more than 300 people on payroll, which gives an organizational advantage but also means her fund-raising must keep pace lest she be forced into future cutbacks.

Ms. Warren now has $19.8 million cash on hand.

Mr. Sanders remains one of the 2020 race’s top fund-raisers even without a signature moment in the last three months. But the fact that Ms. Warren surpassed him — he collected $18 million — is a potential cause for concern.

Perhaps even more notable is that the 2020 Sanders campaign was out-raised by the 2016 Sanders campaign in its first two quarters. Then, he was a scrappy underdog foil to Hillary Clinton; now he has tried to position himself as a front-running alternative to Mr. Biden while holding Ms. Warren at bay.

Yes, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren have taken Mr. Biden to task for his reliance on large contributors. Yes, Mr. Biden has traveled the country for events at the homes of top trial lawyers and business leaders. Yes, about $470,000 of Mr. Biden’s donations came from donors who listed their occupation as “CEO,” his filing shows.

And yes, Mr. Biden raised more from donors who gave more than $200 — $13.6 million — than anyone besides Mr. Buttigieg. Much of that came from $2,800 donations.

But the former vice president played the small-donor game well, too. He collected $8.31 million from donors who gave less than $200, counting 256,000 contributors. Having hundreds of thousands of small-dollar supporters did not shield Mrs. Clinton from Mr. Sanders’s searing attacks on the elite money that was pouring into her campaign in 2016, and it will not shield Mr. Biden either. But it certainly does not hurt his financial standing.

On the spending side, Mr. Biden has quickly constructed a large campaign, with a payroll of about 185 people. He spent about half of what he raised, ending with $10.8 million in the bank.

If the quarter had ended a week earlier, Ms. Harris’s fund-raising haul might have landed closer to the rest of the pack than to the four money leaders who raised at least $18 million. As it is, her $11.8 million put her in a unique place — $7 million-plus ahead of Senator Cory Booker yet $6 million behind Mr. Sanders.

But her campaign said she raised $3.2 million of her funds online in the days after the debate, when she distinguished herself with a riveting exchange over race with Mr. Biden. And records show she also received a jolt of larger contributors: in those same four days she took in about $950,000 in donations of $1,000 or more.

Translation: Without her breakout debate performance, Ms. Harris could well have been mired in the single digit club.

Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, also got a boost from the debates. His campaign said he raised $1.7 million in the first 85 or so days of the quarter and then $1.1 million following the debate. That surge allowed him to actually bank some money and avoid spending more than he raised. It also lifted him to the 130,000-donor threshold to qualify for the September debate (he now must also still meet the polling requirement).

The financial impact the first debates had on the Harris and Castro campaigns will only heighten the stakes of the next ones, which will be held in Detroit later this month.

The whispers had been that Mr. O’Rourke’s number would be bad. The whispers understated his underperformance.

After bursting into the race by raising $6.1 million in his first 24 hours, Mr. O’Rourke sagged to only $3.6 million in the last three months — eighth place. He also spent $5.3 million — $1.42 for every $1 he raised.

While Mr. Buttigieg was hawking a steady stream of merchandise throughout the quarter, the demand to have “Beto” emblazoned on shirts, hats and mugs appears to have dissipated. His campaign last made a payment to Bumperactive, which runs his online store, on April 9.

In an interview on Monday evening, his campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, made the case that Mr. O’Rourke had been hobbled by a “skeleton staff” that wasn’t equipped to capture the “energy” of those early days. She used the word “capacity” more than once.

“People look at Beto and they think, ‘Oh he raised $80 million in the Senate race,’ and they imagine that that happened overnight,” she said. Most of the money, she pointed out, came at the very end. “There is a very long way between now and the end of the campaign.”

The trouble for Mr. O’Rourke is that bad money quarters can beget worse money quarters. Poor polling — Mr. O’Rourke scored 0 percent in a New Hampshire survey on Monday — can exacerbate matters. His campaign is increasingly focused on Iowa, where it just announced it was expanding operations.

“It’s a bad bet to count him out,” Ms. Dillon said.

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